By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A jury has awarded a Los Angeles police officer $260,000 after finding that Pomona police used excessive force on the young cop and unlawfully arrested him.
The verdict reached Wednesday evening was a final step in a nearly two-year effort by Sergio Arreola to clear his name after the 2012 encounter that left him fired from the LAPD and facing a possible prison sentence.
"This was about showing the officers and showing Pomona that they can't be treating others the way they treated me," Arreola, 27, said.
The Times first wrote about Arreola's case last year as he was fighting to get his job back.
In the morning on April 11, 2012, Arreola, who was then a rookie in the LAPD's Central Division, finished a night shift on patrol and drove to Pomona to meet his wife. While on the way, his wife called and asked Arreola to meet her in a nearby neighborhood where a relative had gotten into a minor traffic accident.
Things spun out of control quickly after Arreola arrived. Although Arreola identified himself as an off-duty LAPD officer, within minutes he was on the ground with Pomona officers piled on top of him, placing him in handcuffs.
One of the officers, Eric Hamilton, said in his arrest report that Arreola was aggressive and belligerent from the outset, refusing to obey the officer's commands. Hamilton and another officer, Chris Tucker, described Arreola's demeanor as "extremely angry."
Tucker said in a report that when he tried to handcuff Arreola, he "began to twist and tense up, pulling his arms from our grasp." The officers alleged that Arreola tried to punch Hamilton in the face as they restrained him.
Pomona police officials notified Arreola's LAPD supervisors of the arrest and the account of his behavior that Hamilton and Tucker had given. The next day, Arreola's commanding officer called him into the station and gave him a choice to resign or be fired.
He refused to resign, saying that he had done none of the things the Pomona officers accused him of doing.
Out of a job, things worsened for Arreola when prosecutors in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged him with three misdemeanors of resisting arrest, assaulting Hamilton and obstructing the officers' work. They eventually dropped the assault charge but refused to budge on the others. Arreola refused to consider a guilty plea in exchange for a lenient sentence. "They've ruined my life, they've ruined my name," he recalled saying to his attorney at the time. "What's the worst they can do? Send me to jail?"
At his trial, jurors heard a starkly different account of the morning than the one the officers had told.
Arreola took the stand to challenge the officers' allegations, saying that Hamilton had been the aggressive one, cursing and yelling at him. He denied ever resisting the officers, saying that Tucker had intentionally pulled him off balance while he was being frisked and, when Arreola stumbled, the officer used it as an excuse to take him to the ground.
In an audio recording of the encounter captured by a recorder Hamilton carried, the officer is heard telling Arreola repeatedly to "stop resisting" and Arreola saying that he is not resisting. Arreola is also heard pleading with onlookers to record the scene. Once on the ground, Arreola said, the officers punched him repeatedly. Hamilton, he said, bent his left arm back violently and Tucker attempted to subdue him by using a choke hold.
Later in the recording, Hamilton told Arreola's wife, "I'm going to make sure your husband is never a police officer in the state of California again. I'll talk to Chief Beck myself personally," referring to the LAPD chief.
And jurors listened as Hamilton and Tucker recounted the arrest for other officers. "I just about broke his left arm. I wanted to break his arm," Hamilton said. "I had my arm around him to choke his ass out," Tucker said.
The jury found Arreola not guilty. After the acquittal, the LAPD offered Arreola his job back.
Pomona police officials could not be reached for comment. It is unknown whether the department has conducted an internal investigation into the conduct of Hamilton and Tucker.
Matthew McNicholas, Arreola's attorney in the civil case, said that although the jury did not award Arreola as much money as he had hoped, the verdict sent a message.
"The jury saw these officers beat him, just abused him intentionally. They took everything away from him.... This verdict completes Sergio's vindication."
Copyright 2014 the Los Angeles Times
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